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Bill Paxton was something else. The Texan got his start about 40 years ago as a set dresser for New World Pictures before landing a bit part soon after in New World's cheap-o Crazy Mama. Paxton never looked back. His crooked smile was a welcome site in the 80s: Stripes, Weird Science, The Terminator, Commando, Near Dark and Aliens. Actors with his natural masculinity, dramatic and comic abilities were in desperate need in the 80s (and still today). He more than filled a need, he played roles that you couldn't imagine another actor doing. I don't think any supporting actor in an action film was as ever as good as Paxton in Aliens --going from cock-sure Marine to "Game over man!" defeatist is one of the funniest and honest parts in action movies. It made a great film even better by finally having someone be in full-on panic mode when things got very bad.
Continuing into the 90s and beyond, Paxton alternated between big-budget blockbusters and small films, Paxton was always the most interesting thing on the screen no matter the role.
In the film noir world, Paxton was actually in three films that are clearly in the film noir tent. And they're all outstanding. In 1998, he was top billed in the rural noir A Simple Plan. In 2001, he directed and starred in Frailty. Both of those are top heavy with fantastic performances and we'll no doubt cover them in future articles.
But the one I wanted to highlight this week is One False Move. It's a crime film to be sure. But the story is driven along by people and feelings that motivate them. It was essentially the first lead role for Paxton and he knocks it out of the park. Instead of playing it straight, Paxton give a good-old-boy, off-kilter performance that fits perfectly with the telling of the story.
Initially, Dale 'Hurricane' Dixon (Paxton) is seen through the eyes of big-city police as just a hick Arkansas cop trying to help the real police solve a crime. As the story unfolds his ego is crushed then his past comes back to haunt him. You can see the gears in his head turning in the simple man's head as things get more and more complicated.
The film intercuts between two stories. One of the amusing Hurricane and the LAPD cops, and the other the criminals on the lam quickly becoming more and more paranoid and unhinged. The crooks are played with gusto by pony-tailed Billy Bob Thornton (also the co-writer) and Michael Beach. Cynda Williams plays Fantasia-- the beautiful black woman that ties all the stories together.
The film was initially set to be a direct-to-video release but it turned out so well, it was sent to theaters to rave reviews.
Roger Ebert wrote in 1992,
"On the very short list of great movies about violent criminals, One False Move deserves a place of honor, beside such different kinds of films as In Cold Blood, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Badlands, The Executioner's Song and At Close Range. It is a great film."
Watching it last week, it still holds up. It's great to see a film from that era not inspired by the Tarantino tsunami of sound and pop culture that influenced all crime films a few years after. It's a quiet rural noir with a sense of dread in the silence. Unlike other noirs of the era leaning heavily on camera gymnastics and venetian-blind shadows, it's shot (by director Carl Franklin) in a straightforward way making the grisly violence more terrifying when scenes end short -- sometimes right before violence. Deliberately slow paced, the film drinks in every moment.
I recommend you find One False Move. Then turn off your phone and watch it without distraction.